Friday, September 29, 2006

What's in a name?

Why The Tree? Well, believe it or not, I had resisted Scott's (the unintentional blogger) requests to begin blogging solely because I did not have a good name for my blog, and I figure you really only get one shot at naming your blog. I mentioned this while teaching at my church last Sunday evening, and this name came up. Here's why:

Frequently, when I acquire a new piece of information, I mentally take the time to correlate it with other related pieces of information. This process is very intentional, and the image in my mind is that of hanging the new information in the tree that represents the sum of my knowledge. It's not a great picture, since trees don't really interconnect, but the image dates back very far in my past, and I am not likely to replace it at this point. I mentioned this while teaching, and hence the suggestion.

This process has been both good and bad for me. Good, because the correlation process probably helps me to retain information more effectively. Bad, because it makes it very easy for me to overestimate what I know. I draw very rapid conclusions, and I have to be very careful not to assume that my conclusions bear the force of fact. For years, when someone told me sonething, I would respond with "I know" rather than the more accurate "Interesting", or something similar. I think one reason I did this is related to this correlating process. Someone tells me something, I correlate it to what I know, begin using it to draw conclusions, and it feels like I know it. Of course, this could just be a weak attempt at explaining away a behavior that irritated nearly everyone that I came into contact with for years. I think I have stopped doing this for the most part, but you would probably have to ask my friends to know for sure.

Thursday, September 28, 2006


I had a really interesting experience yesterday, and it has me thinking a lot about how we think. This is not a new phenomenon for me, I have spent a lot of time thinking about thinking, but this particular preception issue is going to take some more time to process.

If you don't know me (and I can only hope that eventually someone who doesn't know me reads this blog), I am 6' 4" tall, and I weight about 205 pounds. I swim and lift weights for exercise, so I'm not a small guy. So I'm in the store yesterday with another very tall man, and the clerk (who I would have killed had I been required to spend any more time with him, but that's another story) says to me, "You've got big guns. I can see you work out." Later, I related this to a friend, who said, effectively "Duh! You are a big guy." I don't see it this way, so I ask him to compare my arms to another man in the room. He says "There is no comparison. You're arms are way bigger."

Now, you have to believe me when I say that I do not care one way or the other. But the deal is, I look at this other guy, and I think he is built larger than I am. Really, I do. And no matter how much this friend tries to convince me otherwise, I just don't see it.

Now, having spent so much time thinking about thought, I am not at all surprised when people's perceptions of their behavior, or their attitudes, or other subjective things don't line up with reality. But this is an objective fact. Light rays bounce off my "guns" the same as every other guy's, and yet when I look at my body, I do not see what everyone else sees. It just strikes me that the filters we place between information and our brains are remarkable. And I wonder how any person can trust themselves to exist alone. This is perhaps one of the most significant purposes for society -- it provides each of us with a different set of filters. Even if I do not accept your conclusion, understanding how you arrived at your conclusion can help me to see the information through your filters, and maybe to get closer to the raw information.

Or maybe there is no such thing as "raw" information. If every one of us perceives the world through a collection of filters, then there is only one perspective that s filter-free. I wonder, is this part of what He meant when He said that His thoughts are not our thoughts? We cannot think like Him, not only because we are finite, but because we see nothing as it really is.

There are a lot of implications for this for me. Maybe I will revisit this again. But I have lost some of my confidence in the default "rightness" of my perceptions. If I cannot see my arms accurately, I might want to be less strident in some more subjective areas.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Left-handed snails

I read National Geographic magazine. I have since I was a kid reading the copies my grandpa got. For a while, I had every issue of the magazine beginning in the mid-60s, at least until I realized that I will never have time to look back at them, my kids weren't interested, and my wife, while accepting my nostalgia, would like the space. That was when I discovered that no one else wanted them either. But I digress.

I still enjoy the magazine, but in recent years it has become the defacto publishing arm of the radical evolutionist society. I myself am a creationist (I'm sure details will emerge over time as to what that means), and I find their over-the-top evolutionary agenda frustrating at times. Every now and then, though, I just find it amusing.

Like this month. In their wildlife section, they have a short article on "left-handed" snails. Now, I'm left-handed, and I have a particular fondness for creatures that share this particular physiologic advantage. The article observes that these snails, which have shells that curve in the opposite direction from their right-handed counterparts, have a significant advantage in the realm of survival -- the species of crab that feeds on them is adapted for eating right-handed snails, and rather than struggle with the lefties, it just leaves them alone.

The article concludes with the following amusing line: "Despite this apparent advantage, marine snails haven't evolved toward having mostly left-handed shells; scientists are at a loss to explain why." Let me see if I understand. We have a genetic adaptation that directly guarantees survival (if your preditor ignores you, that increases your survival). Strangely, this does not produce a shift in population dynamics that is not just predicted by evolution, but (let's be honest), is required by evolution. I cannot imagine a more perfect scenario for gradualist evolution. But it doesn't happen.

Now, I know what's going to happen. Someone is going to continue to look for an explanation, and eventually one is going to be found. And evolutionists will rest easy, knowing that their theory can explain anything. But this little example shows that evolution cannot predict anything. If something this simple cannot produce the sort of population changes that evolution predicts, what real hope is there that exceedingly subtle changes can succeed? And if you can explain why your theory fail when it fails, and succeeds when it succeeds, you do not have a scientific theory, you have a metaphysical device. These are wonderful tools for explaining the universe, but they are of little value in doing science.

One more small point: as I have a Doctorate in Computer Science, I could reasonably be called a scientist. And I am not at all at a loss to explain why the snails haven't evolved. Simply put, they haven't evolved because nothing evolves. Evolution on even a small scale is a very rare event. Minor body changes occur so rarely as to be the exception rather than the rule. Darwin's finches might be the only good example. I don't expect the snails to begin to prefer left-handedness, so I'm not surprised when they don't.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


I'm 44 years old, and as a kid, I remember playing this game called Careers. I recently found a vintage 1955 copy on eBay, and it just arrived yesterday. Like I was 10, I ripped open the package, and convinced my wife and 2 boys (ages 10 and 13) to play last night. The game is very fun, rather sophisticated. The writing is very clever and witty. In one way, I'm surprised it isn't being produced. But something struck me. There is a square on the board called Shopping Spree. If you land there, you roll one die and pay the number on the die times 10% of your cash-on-hand. My wife landed on it once with $1,750 cash, rolled a three, and had to calculate 30% of 1,750. And I realized that there is no way a game produced in the year 2006 would require such a strenuous calculation, even in the age of calculators. This game was printed in 1955, where a computer with the power of my sons' hand calculators would be as large as my bedroom. I'm sure the math was intended to be done in the head, which is where I did it. Seems a simple thing, 30% of 1,750, but you couldn't expect any American under the age of 30 to be willing to exert themselves that hard. I wonder if that's the reason the game is no longer made. Bummer, it really was a lot of fun. BTW, the answer is $525.

Monday, September 25, 2006


My name is Don Wilcox. The dr in drdwilcox stands for Dr. I have a Doctor of Science degree in Computer Science from Washington University in St. Louis. But I also have a bachelor's degree in New Testament Literature from Oral Roberts University, and currently work as the Associate Pastor at a non-denominational church in Arizona.

My interests are as broad as my degrees. I am blogging in part because my friends have asked me to record my varied musings in a place that they can read them. So, this is for you, Scott (